After two days and two attempts to save the 100 long-finned pilot whales stranded on Farewell Spit in Golden Bay, the 34 surviving whales on the beach at first light this morning (subs: January 25, 2012) appear to be making their way out to sea.
39 whales were refloated yesterday around midday and restranded a few hours later. Four died overnight, leaving 35 live whales on the beach. One more died today, but together with the group of 26 that refloated themselves on Monday night, the total number of live animals returned to the sea at this point stands at 60.
"Considering the extended period of this stranding, that's a better outcome than we expected last night," says Kimberly Muncaster, Project Jonah CEO.
"The whales were exhausted and disoriented, and after such a long time on land their skins and body organs may also have suffered some damage."
Project Jonah marine mammal medics and Department of Conservation staff are currently tracking the refloated whales in boats.
"At present they are making great progress swimming in a south-easterly direction. They are in over three metres of water about two kilometres from the stranding site," Kimberly says.
Around 50 Project Jonah medics answered the call to assist the Department of Conservation in the rescue effort on Monday, with more arriving today to support the tired volunteers.
"These people have done an extraordinary job," says Kimberly.
"Along with DOC staff and members of the public, they have endured challenging conditions on the beach, little sleep and heartbreak when the whales restranded.
"Their commitment to marine mammal welfare was demonstrated often, and their ability to start all over again despite being tired was truly admirable."
Kimberly warns that the refloated whales are not safe yet.
"In their fragile condition they could easily restrand, so Project Jonah medics in the area and locals should remain on high alert for the next few days and keep informed through the Project Jonah Facebook page and website at www.projectjonah.org.nz in case further volunteers are needed."
Locals can also help by checking their beaches and bays regularly over the next week. Both today's refloated whales and those that refloated on Monday night may still be in the bay and at risk of stranding.
"We urge people in the area to be vigilant and report any sighting of pilot whales to the Department of Conservation on 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) or 0800 4 WHALE (0800 494 253)," says Kimberly.
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